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I just picked up the Player’s Handbook 3 this week, for the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  Now, I am a big, big fan of the new edition.  It runs like mad, works amazingly, and has a great amount of room for roleplay interpretation.  The classes work well as a team, instead of working on the Speshul Snowflaek syndrome most other modern games suffer from.  There are four clearly defined roles that your character may fall into, and they work well in concert.  They have returned team play to cooperative games.

Multiclassing has been handled in a great way.  By taking a progression of feats, you can swap powers between your basic class, and the class that you chose when you took the Multiclass Feat.  As well, you get access to another skill and to a spin on a class feature.  But you never truly deviate from your role.  You instead augment and reflavor your character to be slightly different than others of your class.  Furthermore, when you reach 11th level and must choose a Paragon Path, you can then opt to instead full multiclass your character, swapping around powers a bit more to mix the two.  It works, and works well, because you still do your job, just a bit differently.

Well, they have pretty well screwed the pooch now.  This new player’s handbook introduces some cool new things, like the psionic power source, canon forms for the minotaur and githzerai races, even the return of the beloved monk class.  Hell, the skill-based utility powers are cool.  What are not cool are the hybrid classes.

Like I said before, this game works because of the simple statement, “Know Your Role.”  In this game, it is still about cooperating, being good at what you do, and being a part of a group.  It is not about a group of people that loosely associate with each other, and can outdo each other constantly.  Granted, that kind of dynamic can come up in the roleplay, but I am talking about mechanics here.  This is about how it all interacts; how each player contributes to the effort, and succeeds because they did their job, and did it well.  But with the way that hybrid classing has been handled, you can mix and match, and screw the concept of doing a job well right out of existence.

Let me run down the process of making a hybrid character for you.  What you do is, instead of choosing a class, you choose two hybrid class templates.  Then you start lining things up.  Any armor proficiencies that the hybrid templates for each class have in common, you gain.  All weapon proficiencies combine (which honestly makes no sense, consistency wise, given what you know for armor).  You get special partials for hit points and surges and the like.  You alternate power choices, always keeping a balance between your hybrid classes.  All in all, you half-ass everything.  Oh, and did I tell you?  If you have an ability, for instance, that is based out of your Rogue class, you can only activate it when you use a rogue power.

The ONLY way this works in the sense of what the game has set out to accomplish, is if you choose two hybrid class templates that fulfill the same role: two defender classes, two striker classes, etc.  If not, you end up being a half-assed version of each role that really cannot do the job it is meant to do.  In essence, you become a controller that can only sometimes alter the battlefield correctly, a leader that can only support his cohorts some times.  You become the epitome of a degree just below mediocrity.

I know there are those of you out there that are going to cry foul on me, or tell me the advantages of hybridizing your character.  To you, I offer the following:

“The hybrid character rules break down each class into parts.  The hybrid version of a class provides a portion of the game benefits of the normal class (hit points, defenses, proficiencies, class features, and so forth)…  …character classes aren’t designed to be broken down and recombined in this way…” (Player’s Handbook 3, page 135, How Does It Work? Sidebar)

And:

“The system of classes and roles in D&D is designed to ensure that every character has a clear purpose at the table and that no character can easily become marginalized by poor choices made in character creation.

“The hybrid character system discards many of the safeguards built into the normal class system.  Even though every effort has been made to craft a hybrid system that creates characters that are as viable as their single-class comrades, the sheer number of combinations available ensures that some combinations might feel less effective than others.

“If you find that your hybrid character isn’t as effective as you had expected, work with your DM to find a solution.”  (Player’s Handbook 3, page 138, Proceed with Care Sidebar)

They are saying right here that, more times than not, it doesn’t work; that it the very system they created flies in the face of everything they built the game to be.  The last quote in particular drives the point home.  Do you know how this DM would suggest you solve the problem?

Don’t play a damned Hybrid character.  Period.

This really is the first system I have seen in this iteration of the Dungeons and Dragons game, going back to my roots with the red and blue boxed sets, that the designers have almost openly said doesn’t work, right in the text of the game.  I am not saying it doesn’t completely work… I have found one way that it does.  But to do it, your choices become very limited.  You play your role.

This means when you hybridize, you pick to classes that fill the same role: two defenders, two strikers, two controllers, or two leaders.  Ideally, your combination choices should have at least one required ability in common.  It doesn’t matter if it is even the tertiary ability, but they need to have something in common.  This usually isn’t much of a problem, as many of the roles have ability scores in common.  Defenders like Strength and Constitution; Controllers like Intelligence and Wisdom; Strikers like Dexterity and Strength; Leaders like Wisdom and Charisma.  There are exceptions to this, but for the most part, these are the trends.

So, what you do is pick a class combo that blends fairly seamlessly.  A ranger/sorcerer would be good.  As would a fighter-paladin-warden combination of any kind.  Wizard/psions would work well.  As would ardent/bards.  But honestly, why not just use the multiclassing feat tree from the original Player’s Handbook?  It works.  It works well.  I think that is the biggest part: it works well!  And you don’t have to worry about making sure that the multiclass option you pick fits perfectly.  You are still performing your role.  The difference is, as a rogue, for example, your target isn’t going to know what to do when you lay down a Dissonant Strain (Bard power, Player’s Handbook 2), literally blowing his mind.  Or when your rough and tumble fighter lays a bit of divine healing in the form of a Healing Strike (Cleric power, Player’s Handbook).  But as you see, you are not changing your role, your purpose, in the game.  Instead, you are reflavoring yourself a bit.

So, in all honestly, I really think they should have skipped the hybrid character crap in this new handbook.  It is, to my thinking, an absolute waste of space in the book that could have been used for another new power source, like Shadow, Elemental, etc.  Or even just some new options for full-blood classes.

What do you think?

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3 Comments

  1. i think hybrid classes sufficiently fit the criteria involved, a) some of our customers really want deeper multiclassing, b) we don’t think it’ll work.

    • Heheheh, understood, drow. I know a lot of people are clamoring for it. As I said, I know the kind of people clamoring for it. And it is nice to hear that even you guys don’t think it will work.

      • hmmm… to clarify, my comment is from an imagined perspective, i’m not a wotc employee or author. sorry about that.

        but i think its accurate. 🙂


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